ISAT professor brings manufacturing experience


By Daniel Vieth and Stephen RoddewigRebecca Simmons

Some of the most important lessons students learn are outside of the classroom, where course material can be applied to real-life situations. This commitment to engaged learning is particularly important for the hands-on lessons taught in the Department of Integrated Science and Technology (ISAT). Rebecca Simmons, who joined the ISAT faculty last semester, promotes this goal by bringing her experience into the classroom and giving students the opportunity to apply their skills to local industries. “I really enjoy being involved in the process of making things and solving problems in a production environment, so ISAT is a natural fit,” said Simmons.

Simmons earned a Bachelor of Music Industry and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from JMU in 1995 and 1998 respectively. After working for a number of manufacturing organizations, Simmons returned to JMU in 2009 to serve as faculty in the College of Business (COB) until December of 2015 when a local company approached her with the opportunity to launch a Lean Operations initiative. Last August, she transitioned into ISAT. “The ISAT program provides the freedom to work with messy, real-world problems and experiment with different solutions,” said Simmons. “The students are interested in such a range of topics, and it’s exciting to engage with students who have such diverse interests.”

Simmons’ principal goal for her research and teaching is bringing together students, faculty and organizations in mutually beneficial relationships. “I see myself as a connector,” said Simmons. “I can take the students out of the classroom and into a real-world environment, such as through class projects, site tours, internships and more.” Simmons also brings her experiences in the manufacturing field, as well as guests from industry, into the classroom so students can better connect with the course material. “This is where students can learn problem-solving skills, gain hands-on experience and have the opportunity to ‘fail-forward’ while they apply what they are learning,” Simmons explained. “It’s all about engaging students in active learning.”

This semester, Simmons is having student groups from her Six Sigma Process Improvement and Design (ISAT 480) course work directly with regional manufacturing firms on projects addressing client production environments. “The student groups are essentially working as consultants, solving a real problem for their client,” Simmons added. Some of these projects include implementing ways to reduce expensive waste scrap, analyzing ways to shorten manufacturing time, and designing a system for a company to better deal with rapid growth. 

Additionally, Simmons is working with students on Capstone projects also aimed at helping local industries become more efficient. “One [Capstone project] is helping a startup move from a prototype to limited scale production, and a second will examine the possibility and implications of automating processes at a company,” Simmons explained. “I’m so proud of the work all these students are doing; they are engaged in solving real problems.”

Simmons enjoys getting to know students, especially when she can make a difference in their career paths. “Working with students is just an amazing experience,” Simmons continued. “To help them explore the world, to share the things you’re passionate about and to see them learn and grow is an amazing privilege.”

In addition to teaching, Simmons spends her summers working with manufacturing companies to help them implement process improvements. “I engage these organizations through active questioning, individual coaching, targeted training and the facilitation of team projects,” Simmons explained. Simmons is also actively involved with the Innovation Division of the American Society for Quality and maintains an ASQ Six Sigma Black Belt Certification. Outside of manufacturing, Simmons enjoys traveling with friends and family, attending concerts at the Forbes Center, spending time outdoors and running. “I used to do triathlons, but now I mostly run half-marathons!” Simmons added.

Thinking on advice to give to students, Simmons suggests taking advantage of all of the things available now. “Get outside of your normal day-to-day routine and see what else is going on at the university,” said Simmons. “It’s a big campus, and there are a lot of organizations for students to be involved with and ways to engage with the community.” 

Published: Thursday, March 16, 2017

Last Updated: Monday, January 29, 2018

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